Zombiegate won the Theatre Royal Haymarket’s Masterclass Pitch Your Play in 2018, and Matthew Gabrielli’s play is now premiering at Theatre 503.

Credit: Danny Kaan

What would you do if you found out that you had just been ‘cancelled’ – but for no reason other than a misunderstanding? Zombiegate tells the story of Sophie (Ebony Jonelle) and Jaimie (George Howard) who end up living by each other’s actions when a misplaced selfie goes viral, getting them cancelled by the internet. In this show that explores the world of trolls, views, and algorithms, their lives are changed dramatically, and it’s their choices that shape their individual fates. Starting off light-hearted and relatable, the chemistry of Jonelle and Howard is undeniable; it appears nothing would break apart their friendship. However, the shift of their spiraling images happens quickly and swerves direction into a more serious tone as the internet makes judgements.

With a cast of four, this play really allows you to understand each individual character. Chand Martinez and Virginia Thompson multirole, shifting between puppetry and key figures that add to the story. It allows for the cast to explore solo moments, expressing the complexity of each character’s personal journey. There is a clear equality of acting abilities from everyone.

Credit: Danny Kaan

The power of Gabrielli’s writing is notable from the beginning, combining modern issues and hard-to-ask-for empathy. Portraying internet trolls as ‘Punch and Judy’ is unique, hiding social media bullies using well-known personas that get away with many vulgar, outrageous acts that no one would dream of tolerating in real life. The depiction of two people’s approaches of dealing with this situation is well executed and relatable. I enjoyed the choice of many silent moments that add tension and time to digest the moments that have just played out in front of us.

The mix of realism juxtaposed with unapologetic theatricality lead for the more ‘normal’ scenes to feel flat at times. However, choices like Jaimie facing all of his ‘fans’ on the internet alone is powerful in showing how isolating social media really is. In parts this show dragged, making this 90 minute play feel a lot longer. Regardless, the subject matter makes you go away questioning the actions made and who was in the right.

The set design by Delyth Evans is an innovative simplistic yet effective display. A mixture of colours spilled among the set is open to interpretation. A subtle gesture of opening doors is enough to take us into another space. The set changes are well-rehearsed but lack in opportunity and eventually become repetitive and could have been used more effectively in jumping between real-life moments and the digitalised world.

Credit: Danny Kaan

The depiction of the internet being bought to life is a hard task, and this is a production still in its early stages. Overall, Zombiegate is interesting and captivating as it does not give us solutions; it only poses important questions that I’m sure will lead to conversations outside of the show. With some edits and creative choices, this show has so much potential, and I’m excited to see where it goes in the future.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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